posted by Kroc Camen on Mon 1st Jun 2009 11:05 UTC
IconWe are glad to present an exclusive interview with Plamen Dragozov--Director of Engineering at PopCap's mobile studio in Dublin, Ireland. "OSNews prides itself on (trying to) cover the diversity of operating systems, and so whilst we rarely cover games, we have approached you to discuss not so much the games themselves, as the technical challenges you go through bringing your games to a wide range of platforms". Read More for the full scoop.

About PopCap

Logo of PopCap

PopCap have been in the ‘casual’ games market since 2000. Their first run-away hit “Bejewelled” and it’s follow-up sequel “Bejewelled 2” have been downloaded over 350 million times, pushing PopCap to the top of the ‘casual games’ market, where they’ve been since.

Their games, often described as ‘digital crack’, drain people’s productivity as much as Tetris did on the original GameBoy. Simple gameplay, with the constant feeling of progress makes PopCap’s games easy to access at any time. Loved by geeks, and casual players alike; 89% of players are over 30, and 72% are female.


How easy is it to stay on top of an ever-moving diverse array of platforms beneath you? OSNews has asked PopCap to answer this very question.

As a non-disclaimer, OSNews has requested this interview in it’s own interests and not as an advert, or marketing for PopCap. We are in no way affiliated, and provide this interview for the interest and benefit of our readers. :)


Interview

Kroc: Hello, welcome to OSNews. Firstly, please let me thank you for taking your time to answer our questions. OSNews prides itself on (trying to) cover the diversity of operating systems, and so whilst we rarely cover games, we have approached you to discuss not so much the games themselves, as the technical challenges you go through bringing your games to a wide range of platforms—from Adobe Flash ActiveX, to Mac & PC, gaming consoles and various mobile platforms, now including the iPhone. But, before we begin, first please introduce yourself, and your role at PopCap.

Plamen: My name is Plamen Dragozov. I’m the Director of Engineering at the mobile studio in Dublin, Ireland, where we bring PopCap’s magic to those little pieces of electronics that everyone carries around these days.


Kroc: Thank you. In some cases successful casual games have come from nothing more than one or two ‘bedroom-coders’. PopCap has been in the game for approaching 10 years now, and have grown a lot since then (your site says 180 employees). Are there strict divisions between platforms and the developers who work on them at PopCap?

Plamen: PopCap was founded at a time when the PC was the best, if not the only platform for publishing casual games and that is still the core of our business. However, as the market has evolved, we’ve worked with different partners to port our IP to many new and promising technologies. Once we felt confident in the future of a platform, we’ve built internal expertise to deliver the best experience to our customers. As of this moment there are dedicated divisions for PC (Windows and Mac), Consoles and Mobile.


Kroc: One thing I’m very interested in knowing is how did you handle porting Flash games directly to Windows and Mac native binaries? Are you using a bundled Flash runtime, or are you porting to your own runtime, and if so—is there any shared components between the two? (for example, using Tamarin to run ActionScript inside your own runtime)

Plamen: I believe there is a small confusion here. Most of the “lite” web editions of our games have been based on the full, native versions, using ActiveX to run in a browser. Our full games are just that—optimized, highly polished and visually appealing work, developed for the platform, not around it.


Kroc: Simply put: do you think platform diversity is a good thing? (Do we really need the “one console to rule them all”?)

Plamen: I can’t think of any consumer product, where one size fits all. We have different tastes, lifestyles and interests, so it is very hard to imagine an ultimate gaming platform that will meet the requirements of every person.

As a matter of fact playing a game is more a state of the mind then a function of our technology, so I don’t believe that any time soon we’ll see a single perfect solution even on an individual level. What works on the sofa in front of a 50″ screen, can’t work in a crowded train or on a fishing boat :)


Kroc: How have you coped with the expansion into new platforms?—What development techniques have you had to come up with to provide a native experience on each platform, with so much diversity at hand (Consoles, PCs, Phones)

Plamen: Technology and clever design can reduce our porting efforts significantly and we think about it all the time. We have frameworks of reusable code and tools for every platform. These help us solve the major problems once and then focus on the game play and the visual presentation.

However there is no ‘silver bullet’. If you care for the player, you need to get your hands dirty to manually tweak and polish your products. This is especially true on the mobile side where the variety of capabilities and features is mind-blowing and there is very little guaranteed in terms of performance, memory, storage or hardware acceleration.


Kroc: The iPhone is an interesting device; it has a level of sensory perception game developers haven’t been used to in desktop and web-based games. You have the multi-touch screen, accelerometer, microphone, even GPS! Do you feel this throws a spanner in the works for your cross-platform strategy, that your games on the desktop won’t necessarily shoe-horn into this platform?

Plamen: The pleasure and addictiveness of our games come from the combination of very simple mechanics with the satisfaction from a constant progress and achievement. So any technology that improves the user interface and helps our customers immerse deeper into the game-play is more than welcome.

As a matter of fact two of our best-known titles, Bejeweled and Peggle are already among the top downloads at the AppStore and hopefully this is only the beginning of what could become one of the best ways to experience PopCap’s products.


Kroc: OSNews has an almost equal split of readers, 30% Windows, 30% Mac and 30% Linux. Whilst Linux is not associated with the “casual gamer”, I suspect that you’ve heard from players of your games who range in age, gender and circumstance more than this moniker suggests. Whilst you have every right to choose which platforms you wish to target and to keep your reasons to yourself, what I’d like to ask is: What do you feel is holding Linux back in the development of games for the platform, and how does that apply to PopCap? (i.e. a technical problem: lack of APIs, unity—or a practical problem: providing support, or straight-up profitability)

Plamen: PopCap is completely platform agnostic. Our business is creating fun and addictive casual games and delivering them to the biggest possible audience. Having said that, we are a relatively small, private company. Before dedicating our limited resources to any project we have to carefully consider the return of our investment and for one or another reason Linux on the desktop has not been a success for commercial, customer-oriented software. On the other hand I hear that most of our games work great with Wine ;) Lately there is lots of development in creating a successful Linux based mobile OS, so there is a good chance that eventually we’ll see official Linux ports of PopCap’s games on some of those new devices.


Kroc: Though it’s not a question I would ask myself, the community are no doubt baying for it to be said: What’s your view on open-source? Could we one-day see open-source PopCap games? What do you think the hurdles are against such a thing?

Plamen: Open-source is a great model for developing infrastructure or utility software. It hasn’t been proven to work that well for user interfaces and entertainment, where the product is the experience of using the application, not the end result of it. A great game is created by a team of professional designers, artists, sound engineers, QA and programmers and an open source model doesn’t work as well as when the product is dominated by software engineers. On the other hand, PopCap’s Games Framework has been open sourced for years and is available from our developers program site (developer.popcap.com).


Kroc: Most interviews end with us asking about where you see the future of gaming going. I find that generally to be nonsense; none of us know where anything is going with any degree of accuracy. In this vein, I would rather ask you what you didn’t see coming during the last ten years? What changes in the technology / gaming landscape caught you by surprise?

Plamen: For me the biggest surprises have been Nintendo’s DS and Wii, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and the explosion of social gaming. These showed that everyone enjoys playing games if given the right tools and that the market for interactive entertainment reaches far beyond the group of hardcore gamers. PopCap’s success is another example to prove it.


Finally

OSNews gives it’s thanks to Plamen for his answers and PopCap’s PR-man Garth Chouteau for being so helpful in arranging this.

OSNews is always looking for OS and technology-related interviews. If you’d like to talk to OSNews, please contact us at osnews-crew@osnews.com

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